Composition of the Youth Movement

Before we can properly apply the lessons of the past to the Progressive Youth Movement we need to take a look at the different types of organizations that make up today’s movement. It is important to note that many organizations fall under multiple categories. This analysis excludes conservative and Republican organizations, though includes non-partisan organizations that work with both parties. There are many more youth organizations than those I discuss below as examples, so don’t take this as a comprehensive list.

Partisan, Progressive, and Non-Partisan

Youth organizations fall into one of three categories: partisan, progressive, or non-partisan.

Partisan organizations identify with and promote a specific political party. College Democrats of America and Young Democrats of America are Democratic partisan organizations, while Campus Greens is a Green Party partisan organization.

Progressive organizations don’t directly identify with a specific party, but supports progressive issues, candidates, and causes. Examples of progressive youth organizations are the Bus Federation, Campus Progress, League of Young Voters, and Young People For.

Non-partisan organizations work with all political parties and ideologies, and often focus on young voter registration and empowerment, as well as general youth and student issues. Examples of non-partisan youth organizations are Rock the Vote, Mobilize, HeadCount, and the United States Student Association.

Youth Component Organizations

Youth component organizations are youth arms of general organizations. Examples are the Sierra Student Coalition (Sierra Club), Student Conservation Voters (LCV), Greenpeace Student Network (Greenpeace), Campus Progress (Center for American Progress), NAACP Youth and College (NAACP), Young People For (People for the American Way), and the College Democrats of America (DNC).

The Young Democrats of America, while in some ways being like a component organization of the DNC, technically has not been since its separation with the DNC in 2003.

Umbrella Organizations

Umbrella organizations, most notably the Bus Federation and Energy Action Coalition, are organizations made up of a number of smaller groups.

Issue/Cause Organizations

Issue and cause organizations mobilize youth in support of specific issues and causes. Examples are the Energy Action Coalition (environment), United States Student Association (student issues), Campus Pride (LGBT), and the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (voting rights).

Constituency Organizations

Constituency youth organizations tend to focus on the youth of a particular constituency group. Examples are Campus Pride (GLBT), Voto Latino (Latino/a), NAACPYC (African-American), and Running Start (women).

Student, General, Non-Student

Traditionally youth groups throughout history have focused on students, since they are the low-hanging fruit of the organizing world. Today there are organizations that focus on students, focus on youth in general, and those that specifically reach out to non-college youth.

Student organizations are still the most prevalent, including the College Democrats of America, Campus Pride, Campus Progress, USSA, SAVE, Student PIRGs, and most of the environmental component groups.

General organizations work with students as well as young workers and professionals. Examples are the Young Democrats of America, Bus Federation, Rock the Vote, and Young People For.

A few organizations take the initiative to undertake the admirable task of reaching out specifically to non-college youth. The League of Young Voters is an example, as is the Hip Hop Caucus, which reaches out to youth in low-income urban areas. Some of the constituency group organizations also do a great job of this, including Voto Latino.

Voter Registration Organizations

These organizations tend to be non-partisan and work to register young voters and encourage them to turn out at the polls. Rock the Vote is the biggest name in this category, but there are a number of organizations that engage in this work, including HeadCount and Student PIRGs New Voters Project.

Candidate Organizations

Candidate organizations tend to be temporary since they are organized around a particular campaign. The pioneer in this category was Generation Dean, which paved the way for the 2008 candidate organizations like Hillblazers, Generation Obama, and SFBO.

Leadership Development Organizations

Leadership development organizations focus on recruiting, training, and supporting young leaders. Examples are the Young Elected Officials Network, which works with young people that have been elected to office, Running Start, that works to encourage and support young women running for office, and the New Leaders Council, which trains emerging young leaders to become “political entrepreneurs.” Young People For also provides progressive leadership development.